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Study: Faith is Good for the Brain

A new research found that faith has beneficial effects on the brain.

According to an article by Italian science journalist Piero Bianucci, prayer and other experiences related to faith stimulate a part of the brain associated with strong, positive emotions, reports Catholic news website Aleteia.

Bianucci’s article is published on Wellbeing, Health with Soul (BenEssere, la salute con l’anima) and is largely based on the book by French psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik, Psychotherapy of God (Psychothérapie de Dieu, in French).

Studies of brain circuitry do not reveal the existence of a ‘God zone’ or a ‘religion zone,’ but they do show that an environment structured by religious faith leaves a biological mark on our brain and makes it easier to re-discover feelings of ecstasy or transcendence acquired in infancy. —Piero Bianucci

“Studies of brain circuitry do not reveal the existence of a ‘God zone’ or a ‘religion zone,’ but they do show that an environment structured by religious faith leaves a biological mark on our brain and makes it easier to re-discover feelings of ecstasy or transcendence acquired in infancy,” Bianucci wrote.

When a child is exposed to daily prayers, going to church, or other faith-based activities, these imprint good emotions in the brain. These good experiences remain with the child, even if he/she loses faith in a higher power as an adult.

The study also found that religious rituals such as singing hymns or Bible studies are valuable in a person’s sense of community.

“Prayer and the sacred formulas dissolve the suffering that comes with isolation. When you sing a hymn, you are not alone. Sacred objects symbolize the possibility of having access to Him who protects us all. Acts of faith inspire us with a feeling of belonging. The feeling of brotherhood heals our anxiety.”

Another research led by Professor Tony Jack of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio supports Bianucci’s findings. Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study found that people with spiritual belief were more empathetic than those without, reports UK news agency The Independent.

The study showed that “Although both spiritual belief and empathetic concern were positively associated with frequency of prayer or meditation, neither were predicted by social contact – such as church dinners – associated with religious affiliation.”

Professor Jack’s team used fMRI scans in its experiment and showed that the brain has an analytic network of neurons used for critical thinking and a social network to empathize. They discovered that humans engage the social network of neurons in order to believe in God.

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